Gone to the Dogs

Anna Berington's 2012 Iditarod team. Note her shoulder patch! Photo courtesy of Frank Kovalchek.

On the morning of Saturday, March 3rd, it snowed in Anchorage, Alaska. You may be thinking, “Well of course it did, it’s Alaska!” But on this day it was only fitting as Our Dad’s Flag was proudly pinned to the jacket of rookie Musher Anna Berington as she got her boots on the sled and led her snow dog team down the 8+mile trail at the Ceremonial Start of the 40th Annual Iditarod. 

When we started this project our goal was to send Our Dad’s Flag around the United States to visit prominent people and interesting places to promote support of our troops. We never imagined that how far it would go and over what kind of terrain!

Dogs and Kat!

Our thanks go out to the dogs of Seeing Double Sled Dog Racing, to identical twin mushers (left to right) Anna and Kristy Berington and to their big sister Kat Berington for such an incredible visit. Kat kindly escorted Our Dad’s Flag from her hometown in Wisconsin all the way out to Anchorage to attend the Musher’s Banquet and the Ceremonial Start. The plan was to meet the famous mushing twins, have a photo op or two and then she would send the flag back with a postmark from Anchorage on the first day of the Iditarod. Well, that was the plan…

Oh the Places You’ll Go!

After the Ceremonial Start, dogs and all arrived at the Campbell Airstrip and that’s where Kat asked Anna if she could unpin Our Dad’s Flag from her jacket. Anna smiled and said, “Why?  It’s coming with me to Nome.” 

Wow! That means Our Dad’s Flag is currently traveling the entire route of the Iditarod,  approximately 1,000-miles until they make boots on the ground in Nome. This is an amazing development for our little family project, worthy of our happy tears and roaring cheers! Go dogs go!

Anna, Scott, Paul and Kristy

The race officially started Sunday, March 4th from Willow, AK. Kat reported to us that it was a brilliant sunny day with crowds of fans and so many adorable dogs.  Kristy (bib #31) and Anna (bib #33) officially started the race along with their mushing buddies Paul Gebhardt (bib #25), and Scott Jansenn (bib #37). Good luck to all in the long haul!

The race is still underway as of this post date and YOU can be a part of it by tracking their progress along the trail at www.iditarod.com and search by name and/or bib #. Also be sure to track their buddies Paul Gebhardt, and Scott Jansenn. Thanks to all for being such an incredible part of Our Dad’s Flag.

The Call of the Wild

The kids and I love to zoom into the background where the two dogs look like they are dancing!

Anna is in her first Iditarod run while Kristy is already a two-time Iditarod finisher. They are two of 66 mushers in this year’s race – not to mention two of the few female mushers in a mostly-male sport! The twins are former National Guard members who currently work as dog handlers — an important and proud career in their part of the US — at Cooke Inlet Kennel and Morning View Kennels in Alaska.

Anna and Kristy love the outdoors and animals. They grew up on a family farm in Wisconsin and their love of nature and adventure eventually turned into an affinity for dogs and sled racing. They were introduced to handling and care by neighbors who raised sled dogs.  They were about 9-years-old when they jumped on their own makeshift sleds and linked up small teams of dogs. From that point on they’d gone to the dogs – literally and in the best sense of the phrase!

Eventually their own call of the wild led them to Alaska where they now reside fulltime and love working with the dogs, getting out on the trail, staying active and experiencing the beauty of Alaska.

See More, Seeing Double

For more information on Kristy and Anna’s adventures visit Seeing Double Sled Dog Racing  It’s a fantastic and informative website full of stats, photos, links and an INCREDIBLE up-to-date Iditarod blog written by the one and only Kat Berington.

Kristy Berington 2012 Iditarod team. Photo courtesy of Frank Kovalchek.

Wanna feel like you’re part of The Last Great Race? Follow Kat’s blog, visit the Seeing Double Sled Dog You Tube channel  and view tons of  photos on flickr  

Thanks to Kat Berington for sharing her personal photos and to Frank Kovalchek for the teams in action at the ceremonial start.

Need More Mush?

This year marks the 40th Anniversary of the great race that runs from Anchorage to Nome, AK, spanning approximately 1,000 miles. Known as The Last Great Race, the route they follow is known as the Iditarod Historical National Trail, a trail started 100 years ago for dog sled use to carry mail, Yukon gold, supplies, etc… The name Iditarod has a few differing origins steeped in local Indian heritage.

The actual Iditarod race was started 40 years ago to celebrate the tradition of dog sledding, the settlement of the Last Frontier and is also known to commemorate the courageous 1925 trek by numerous mushers and dogs responsible for getting anti-toxin serum from Anchorage to Nome during a deadly outbreak of diphtheria. Planes, trains, boats, automobiles . . . nothing could handle this quest quite like the sled dogs. 

Gee! Haw! Let’s Go! (Right! Left! Uh, Let’s Go!)

There are many checkpoints throughout the Iditarod’s northern route where mushers and their teams get clocked, rest, do maintenance, cook, and eat as well as take a 24-hour mandatory layover.  But throughout it all, care for the dogs, is always paramount! Traditionally, sleds have 14-16 dogs and all are continually monitored along the trail by veterinarians. It can take a team anywhere from 10 days to two weeks to complete the entire route. Talk about being dog tired!

Contrary to popular belief, not all mushers say Mush! Some simply say Hike! Or Let’s go! Other vocab includes Gee for right, Haw for left and Whoa! For slowing and stopping the team. The official finish line is in Nome as teams pass through the Burled Arch and where the widow’s lantern is lit. What’s it all worth? Thrill. Being one with nature. Adventure. And a shared purse prize for the top 30 finishers.

In the past few weeks our family has taken in all of the sled dog stories and movies we could get our hands on. Most recently we watched Disney’s Balto, got reacquainted with Jack London’s phenomenal accounts of frontier life in Call of the Wild and White Fang and Adventure in Alaska by S.A. Kramer and The Great Serum Race by Debbie S. Miller. For an insanely comprehensive history on the Iditarod, details of the race currently underway and details on the trail as well as educational activities for children visit www.iditarod.com.

Endurance. Fidelity. Intelligence.

This bronze statue of Balto, who was one of the 160 dogs in the 1925 anti-toxin serum run, is located in Central Park, New York City – a long way from Nome. (Thanks to Aunty Tam for the extra flag visit.) It’s dedication reads, “Dedicated to the indomitable spirit of THE SLED DOGS that relayed anti-toxin six-hundred miles over rough ice, across treacherous waters, through arctic blizzards from Nenana to the relief of stricken Nome in the Winter of 1925. Endurance. Fidelity. Intelligence.” Indeed.

The Bronze Fonz

Milwaukee Fonzi

So if you’ve ever asked yourself, “What do Arthur Fonzarelli and the Iditarod have in common?” You’re in luck because we have the answer! Our Dad’s Flag of course! Kat Berington, now known as an Our Dad’s Flag Embassador, took advantage of some lead-time before she left Wisconsin for the big race. While out and about in Milwaukee, hometown of the old hit show “Happy Days,” she took our Dad’s Flag to visit the bronze statue of Fonzie. Too funny!!!

 PS – Wanna know the real team?!

The names of the sled dog’s on Anna’s team pulling Our Dad’s Flag are Aardvark, AD, Arctic, Blackbeard, Bodie, Demon, Digger, Era, Foxy, Mekong, Morgan, Neyhru, Stormy, Vandal, Viper, and Vinny!

Thanks for reading! Our dad is currently “boots on” the ground in Afghanistan and we’ll be sure to share all these great visits and your comments with him. Please keep all our troops, their friends and families in your thoughts and prayers. So…can you guess where Our Dad’s Flag goes next?! 

If you haven’t already done it – be sure to sign up to follow on email, become a follower on Twitter and/or like us on Facebook. Comments? Use the link below. Questions? E-mail ourdadsflag@yahoo.com.


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3 Responses to Gone to the Dogs

  1. sschmidtinfredonia says:

    Looking out the window of my classroom, it looks like I could be in Alaska! The snow is coming down hard and the skies are dark. Bright skies and sunny days are coming very soon, though. Next week in western New York we will have temps well into the 50s and some days in the low 60s. All of us can’t wait.
    I LOVE the information about the Iditarod. It is so fascinating! I will be sure to share the info with my kids in school.

  2. D says:

    how special for the two little ones and for R! I learn so much about history, the country, special people, and the great adventures of Our Dad’s Flag. God Bless to all and hope to see you all soon! – D.
    PS – Love the pictures!

  3. auntytam says:

    Very pleased to be a contributing photographer! Great write up on the twins/former National Guard members, who have taken Our Dad’s Flag on quite a journey. Carry on, Boots on!

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